Former N.H. Gov. Thomson Dies at 89
ADOLPHE V. BERNOTAS
Apr. 19, 2001
ORFORD, N.H. (AP) _ Former Gov. Meldrim Thomson, whose support of conservative causes outraged liberals while his fiery antitax stance brought him three terms in office, died Thursday. He was 89.
Thomson, who had Parkinson's disease and had suffered three heart attacks and a stroke during the 1990s, died at his home in Orford.
The political career of the ex-governor, farmer, lawyer, columnist, publisher and tax fighter was among the most turbulent of the century in New Hampshire.
Thomson, a one-time political science instructor who had an encyclopedic knowledge of political history, would deflect criticisms that he was stuck in the 19th century by declaring that his philosophy actually was older than that.
``Mel Thomson was Ronald Reason before Ronald Reagan was president,'' said Charles Perkins, vice president of editorial for The Union Leader of Manchester, which strongly supported Thomson throughout his career. ``Thomson and Reagan shared a common philosophy, but more than that, a straightforward style of political leadership, which resounded strongly with everyday people.''
As governor from 1973-79, serving three two-year terms, he drew devoted support from ultraconservatives with positions that included suggesting nuclear weapons for the state National Guard. He once called Martin Luther King ``a man of immoral character whose frequent association with leading agents of communism is well established.''
But he also drew votes for his strong antitax stance _ to this day, the state has neither an income tax or a sales tax _ and for his philosophy of independence from federal influence.
``I have fought the holy cause of liberty against the sinister encroachments of the federal government,'' he wrote in his 1979 book, ``Live Free or Die.''
``If the true spirit of 1776 prevailed today, we would see governors vying with one another to cut the high cost of government programs,'' he wrote. ``There would be many states to join New Hampshire's solo parade of no general sales or income taxes.''
The title of the book is the motto introduced on state license plates during Thomson's time in office. He waged an unsuccessful battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a motorist from covering the words up.
Democrat Hugh Gallen ousted Thomson when he sought a fourth two-year term in 1978.
More recently, the former governor continued to fight the establishment as a columnist for The Union Leader, whose late publisher, William Loeb, was a friend and ally. In 1986, using a Right-to-Know-Law lawsuit, Thomson pried from the state government a list of banks in which the state had deposited money.
Born in Wilkinsburg, Pa., the son of a Southern father and a Boston mother, Thomson grew up mostly in Georgia and Florida. He got his first taste of electoral politics as a school board member while living in New York state. He came to New Hampshire in 1955.
By 1966, Thomson had become so vehemently opposed to big government that he helped persuade his local school board to reject federal aid for a remedial reading program. His efforts started to bring him statewide attention.
He made two unsuccessful tries for the GOP nomination for governor in 1968 and 1970, then ran unsuccessfully in the 1970 general election as the candidate of George Wallace's American Party. He managed to win the GOP nomination in 1972, then won the governorship in a three-way race when moderate Republicans ran one of their own as an independent.
In 1978, Thomson appointed David Souter to the Superior Court bench. Twelve years later, Souter became a U.S. Supreme Court justice.